Getting to an Inbox Zero in few quick steps
Having an Inbox Zero - as in having an empty inbox - can greatly improve your performance, lower your stress and help you accomplish more. And the best part about it - the yield is adding up over time, like that story of the rice grains on the chess board.
There is plenty of advice on how to maintain an Inbox Zero once you have one. But getting there seems to be the bigger problem. That four-digit (five-digit?) number is not very attractive, is it?
Here are few quick steps you can take to drastically reduce the amount of unread emails in your inbox and maybe even eliminate them entirely.
1. Select and delete all spam/subscription emails
The biggest chuck of unread emails consist of unimportant emails. Otherwise you would have processed them.
So think of all the common spam/subscription emails you get on a daily/weekly basis and start the search & destroy procedure. Look them up by email address or by subject line, then select and delete.
That will already drastically lower the count of unread emails in your inbox, plus it will free up more space. In case you accidentally delete an important registration email, don’t worry - you can always request a new password.
2. Review what is left and try to trim further
Go through the list and see what more have you missed. If you still have more than 100 unread emails, there must be a common denominator. Try to trim as much as possible and don’t be too sentimental.
Maybe you left out task updates from tools like Jira and Confluence. You can always track the changes when you visit the tool so why keep them also in the email? Don’t get caught in the thread threat.
3. Read what is left and take notes
Hopefully by now you have no more than 40-50 emails left. Go through them and try to understand - why did you leave that email unread? Was there an important information you wanted to keep? Was it waiting for an action of some sort? Is it still relevant?
Take notes on the side if you need to do something and take mental notes on how to deal with such emails in the future. Then move on to the next one until you have read everything.
Now you have an Inbox Zero!
But that is only as good as today. Make sure it stays this way, here is how:
4. Create filters for the most common emails
Create filters for the top 5-10 types of emails you receive and are important to you. Assign them a label and create a folder where they automatically can go to. Run the filter through your old emails, too.
This will give you clarity on what is really important and what is just a filler. Now whenever you receive an email, you will know the priority.
5. Check every email you get and define an action for it
Check your email regularly and read everything, especially in the first week or two.
For the filler emails - either unsubscribe, read or mark as read. Do not leave an email as unread unless it’s important for you.
For the important emails - decide how much time an email requires. If you can resolve it quickly - do it. If it requires more time - leave it as unread and deal with it later.
In one week, you will see a brand new side of your inbox you never though possible.
6. If you don’t read an email in 4 days, chances are it’s not important
Unless you are on vacation and left your phone at home, unless you don’t follow the steps I outlined here, you will be 100% aware what emails you get and what is required from you.
So if consciously or unconsciously you don’t take care of them in a couple of days, that means they are not really a priority for you. Accept that and either move on or review your priorities.
The biggest reason for piling emails is delaying your decision on how to handle them. And while that is okay sometimes, make it the exception rather than the rule.